Life and times of American author, novelist Richard Wright
The life and times of American author, novelist Richard Wright
Richard Wright had to face many challenges in his life that ultimately made him the man that he turned out to be. From his family struggles and his unending hunger to his troubles with racism and bigotry, Richard had to face a whole lot of adversity. Part of his struggle with society, beyond the obviousness of racism, was that he often times found himself having trouble communicating with people. He simply couldn’t understand why these people around him, both white and black, acted the way in which they did. Did skin color warrant such segregation and hate? Because of his thirst for knowledge, knowledge of other people, Richard often had to defend himself and his pride. Richard holds pride, knowledge, and the quest for equality in very high regards, because these beliefs shape the way in which he interacts with the people he meets in his life, and causes him to wonder what other people, both black and white, are thinking, feeling, and believing. It is these beliefs that form the foundation of his life.
To Richard Wright, there is nothing more basic and essential to man than pride. Without it, a man is nothing: nothing to himself and nothing to society. Even at an early age, Richard could appreciate the value of pride. The scene where Richard and his mother are at their father’s house seeking money to leave for Arkansas is a perfect example of Richard holding on to his pride. Neither of them wants to be here, but they are desperate and are acting out of will for the moment. Richard’s father says to him, “I ain’t got nothing…Here Richard…don’t be a fool, take the nickel.” Richard’s father is being a jerk, offering Richard a nickel, knowing full well that Richard is going hungry. He is taunting his own son. He sarcastically asks if Richard wants to live with him, to which Richard replies, “I may be hungry now, but I won’t stay with you.” Even when offered to live with his father, where he will have plenty to eat, he refuses to live with this man; this cowardly man who abandoned him. He has enough pride in himself and his mother to be able to rise above his father’s level of ignorance and greed.
Another scene that demonstrates Richard’s value of pride is when he is riding the elevator at his job with Shorty and a white man. Shorty demands that the white man give him a quarter, or else he won’t move the elevator. Shorty says that the white man can kick him for a quarter, and he does. After witnessing this, Richard says to Shorty, “How in God’s name can you do that?” and, “But a quarter can’t pay for what he did to you.” Shorty presented himself as though he was on a lower level than the white man: he gave the white man what he wanted. It is this kind of behavior that Richard sees as detrimental to black people and their efforts for equality. Here Richard is, trying to establish himself as being on the same level as white people, and Shorty is seemingly undoing all of his work.
Yet another example of Richard displaying his pride is in the scene where he is taking a pair of eyeglasses to a white man at his work to be signed in, and the man notices that Richard looks like he doesn’t get enough to eat. He offers Richard a dollar so he can eat, but Richard refuses it. He says to Richard, “Go ahead and take it boy. You’re ashamed to take it, but don’t let a thing like that stop you from eating.” Richard says, “I wanted to take it, but the more I looked at him the more I couldn’t take it.” Even though Richard has gone hungry for so long, he knew that if he had given into the white man, he would be submitting to him, and that is contrary to what Richard believes in. He has to do things for himself, do things his own way. He needs to make his way in life on his own terms, not because of someone’s pity for him.
Another value that Richard holds dearly is knowledge. To him, a person who is ignorant to the truth and who is limited by what society tells them they can and cannot do is in many ways already dead. Books provide Richard with a lot of this knowledge. Reading novels provide Richard an escape from the harsh reality of the South for black men, because he can let his mind wander. He says, “Reading was like a drug, a dope. The novels created moods for which I lived for days.” Books are a passageway into the author’s mind, and Richard deeply desires and wants to know how and why other people think, feel and behave they way in which they do. This goes for both black and white men. Richard says, “Merely because I had read a book that had spoken of how they (white people) lived and thought, I identified myself with that book. I felt vaguely guilty.” He feels guilty because he is learning more intricately just how white people lived and regarded black people. This new understanding of the world drove him to want more and more books; anything he could get his hands on. Because a man with intelligence has the ability to make a great change in society.
Richard Wright experienced many things during his childhood that paved the way for the man he was to become. Having to fight against poverty, hunger and racism was not easy for a boy trying to survive in the South. Yet, with his pride and his desire for knowledge and understanding, he was able to rise above most of the challenges that were posed before him. Richard was the kind of man who had great potential, because he stood up for himself and what he believed in. He had the courage to question things, and he couldn’t understand what made white people feel the way they did towards blacks. But by reading books, he could see through a passageway into the minds of those who sought to oppress blacks, and he fulfilled his desire for knowledge and understanding of whites. Richard Wright was a remarkable man.
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